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Short, sharp 'Appcessory' Reviews + News for fellow geeks, educators and parents.

Appcessories are App and Accessory combo devices - where an add-on for an iPad or iPhone has been specifically engineered to interact with a matching app to provide new functionality not otherwise possible.

Appcessories.info is proud to be a part of a network of other supportive sites such as Slide2learn.net, iEAR.org, Learninginhand.com, Mactalk.com.au, and MomsWithAps.com. It has been created by Jonathan Nalder - visit http://JNXYZtraining.net to book Jonathan for Appcessory training where you can go hands-on with many of the appcessories featured on the site.

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These are the worlds first iBeacon schools


Since news of Paul Hamilton’s first ever use of iBeacons in a school hit the web earlier this year, there has been a gap in time as other schools and developers have been working hard to implement location-aware learning on a bigger scale. I myself am part way through developing an app to support professional development training of teachers with Crowdsify, but it takes time.

The waiting period to see which schools will be next is over however as a major project was announced last week involving a partnership between Australia’s largest independent school (Hailybury), a private school in the UK (Bryanston) and SpecialistApps.com that will see the already in place eLocker software used by these schools to support students use of iPads being augmented by iBeacons in a way that gives teachers a contextual trigger for curating learning content and experiences within an already successful and familiar tool. Read more about it in Geoff Elwood’s post HERE.

Almost at the same time we have another UK School who are launching their own project. Titled iClevedon, it leverages the work of a student developer to add iBeacon support for the schools digital handbook as well as location-specific triggers and notifications to make the very act of moving around the school an interactive experience. They are also using their back-end file management system (Foldr) to allow the beacons to trigger access to content for students as they need it. You can view the launch video HERE and follow them on twitter for updates.

So all in all, things are really heating up! Both of these projects are also giving me some great ideas to add to the chart I am creating to map iBeacon use cases against the SAMR framework of Dr Ruben Puentedura to provide a big picture view of where we are starting from (generally just substituting iBeacon use for a previous almost identical tool) and where we are going in terms of aiming for deployments where iBeacons allow learning tasks to be totally redefined.

Posted on Monday, June 23rd 2014

Review: UP24 Fitness Band

App = 4/5 for packing in enough detailed data without feeling too crowded, while also proving intuitive to use.

Accessory = 4/5 for being not only a minimal and fashionable accessory, but also keeping out of the way and NOT being too geeky or having a battery-sucking screen.

WHAT

The UP24 fitness band is the 3rd such product from Jawbone who were formally known for Bluetooth car products, and also make the well known Jambox series of bluetooth speakers. It consists of a 20g, splash proof  wristband that packs in an array of activity sensors into a slim band that features a textured, hypoallergenic rubberised exterior, one end-button for controlling basic functions, two indicator lights, and an end-cap for the charging port.

The UP24 tracks your activity across the day and night and, once it has been synced to an Android or iOS device it translates this into graphs and presents these to users in the UP app. The app also pushes out notifications of encouragement and progress, and allows you to follow the activity of other UP band users you may know. In addition, the app can sync back vibration alarms to the band to wake you up or let you know when you have been idle too long, and be linked to other fitness apps to provide an even bigger picture of one’s health.

HOW

The UP24’s accelerometer can track a wearers movement in three-dimensions and combine this with smart algorithms to know which movements equate to exercise and which to random movement. By storing this data over time and then using bluetooth low-energy and the smartphone or tablet that many people already have as the ‘brains’ of the operation, Jawbone have been able to optimise the size and battery-life of its product while keeping operation relatively simple.  

VERDICT

With many of the rumours around the ‘iWatch’ that is possibly coming from Apple indicating it may have health-tracking features, and other large companies like Samsung already having entered the market, smaller pioneers like Jawbone need to have strong products if they are to continue to succeed. By keeping things simple they have more or less succeeded with the UP24, for now. It is very much an almost invisible wearable - one that could almost pass for a ‘man-bracelet’ without anyone necessarily asking what it is. It works in the background as you go about your day, only asking you to press its one button perhaps twice a day to switch into and out of sleep mode, and to charge it once a week. It’s splash proof design means you don’t even need to take it off to shower. The well-designed app you can open when you want depending on how often you need to change alarms or want to see your activity progress.

There is more I’d like from the UP band in the future such as additional sensors to improve the usefulness of its data such as an altimeter and heart-rate sensor. It’s price of A$179 may also need to come down depending on what the iWatch and announced Moto 360 devices end up costing - but for now, for those who want in straight away to the wearable and quantified data era but don’t want a device that requires more setup or fiddling such as a Pebble semi-smartwatch, or can’t wait for the competing Fitbit Force to be fixed and re-released internationally, the UP24 is pretty much the sweet spot at present. Importantly, it also allows you to sync your data with several other apps so you could potentially switch to a different eco-system in the future fairly painlessly. 

NB. One caveat to all this is the reports regarding the durability of previous UP bands, which were known for needing to be regularly replaced.

(EDUCATION VERDICT)

Even having one UP24 for a class could open up a large range of opportunities for tracking data across citizen science or fitness activities. Having different students wear the band is an option, as is having students take the data and graph it themselves. Even using it to help forgetful students be silently alerted to important events across the day may be worth the price compared to having alarms going off in class, or students constantly having to be re-directed. 

Posted on Wednesday, May 7th 2014

iBeacons are a new platform that uses bluetooth to bring location-based triggers and interactivity to your smart device. They are getting big in retail and museums - but I am working with some top educators to work out how beacons (like the Estimote branded ones I own) can enhance learning - visit BeaconsForEducation.com to learn more.

iBeacons are a new platform that uses bluetooth to bring location-based triggers and interactivity to your smart device. They are getting big in retail and museums - but I am working with some top educators to work out how beacons (like the Estimote branded ones I own) can enhance learning - visit BeaconsForEducation.com to learn more.

Posted on Wednesday, March 26th 2014

Snappgrip iPhoneography case

App = 3/5 for providing basic camera functionality, but with some confusing mode options and rough in-app menus

Accessory = 3/5 for solving some iPhoneography problems well, while wasting effort attempting to solve others that don’t exist.

WHAT

The Snappgrip is a specially designed iPhone case that allows a handgrip with shutter, zoom buttons and a mode dial to be snapped onto it. You can also screw in add-on lenses such as widescreen, macro, fisheye and a microscope.

HOW

Once the handgrip section is snapped onto the Snappgrip case, you open the Snappgrip app, tap the bluetooth connect button to pair the app with the handgrips button controls, hold the iPhone like a point-and-shoot, and start taking photos.

One can half-hold down the shutter button to make the camera focus, then push it all the way to take a photo. You can also push the zoom buttons to bring your subjects closer, and ostensibly turn the mode dial to select different scene settings

VERDICT

The Snappgrip case and handgrip are light but well-built and feel very good in the hand, something that is important in this category of appcessory where the weight of other solutions can end up deterring you from using them often. 

Having a physical shutter button does turn out to be very handy as well - however the zoom buttons seem a waste when all they do is initiate the digital zoom which degrades quality, and hence will almost never be used. The mode dial also, while seemingly a useful addition, has no markings to indicate what the selections around it do, and I could find no documentation in the box that explained things either leaving me questioning why it is there. I had to guess from what came up on-screen as to what effect the dial was having. 

This brings me to the app also, which works as well as most camera apps and gives access to all functions via the touchscreen, but has some serious issues once you enter the gallery/editing section - with words misspelt (‘sences’ for scenes) and menu buttons that overlap the phones top signal and time bar.

The screw-in lens option however works well if you opt to buy any of these - I got the wide-angle/macro option and its quality was up with other basic add-on lens options I’ve sourced from Photojojo in the past.

I’d recommend this appcessory for those who value the comfort of the handgrip, like the physical shutter button and who plan to use the tripod mount slot, as well as those who want to use it as a remote bluetooth trigger when its detached. For everyone else thinking that the other buttons will replicate a true point and shoot camera experience however, the wait continues - perhaps a future version will add some better functionality here. 

You can buy the Snappgrip ($69.99) and learn more from http://snappgrip.com

(It’s also available in for Android devices if you own a Samsung Galaxy S3 or S4)

Disclosure - I was a Kickstarter backer of this product.

Posted on Wednesday, March 5th 2014

My Hex3 Nota stylus arrived today - has a brilliant thin tip that works very very well. I was happy to support this Australian invention.

Posted on Monday, February 3rd 2014

JNXYZ training

Posted on Monday, January 27th 2014